By Molly Cox
The Signature Theatre in Arlington is currently showing their production of the new musical by John Kander (who also wrote Cabaret and Chicago) and Greg Pierce, Kid Victory.
17-year-old Luke (Jake Winn) has just returned to his conservative, small-town home in Kansas after being kidnapped a year before. His parents, ex-girlfriend, and community struggle to accept that the boy they thought they knew is gone. They don’t know how to help him overcome the trauma of the last year, and by trying to help, only push him further away. Luke finds solace working in a garden shop with the owner, Emily (Sarah Litzsinger). Emily is what your conservative grandfather would think of as a rebel, living on the fringe of polite society. Really, she’s a rather immature but lovable, goofy woman with dreads and a few tattoos.
Eventually, Luke opens up to Emily about some of his experiences in captivity. Emily was interesting at first, but it seemed unnecessary for her character to have so much time on stage. We also see Luke exploring his sexuality while trying to overcome the conflicting emotions that result from sexual abuse. Parker Drown is a breath of fresh air as Andrew, who Luke meets on the online dating site Matchstick Men. Drown inserts some much needed energy into the piece, and deserved more time on stage. Andrew could have been an infinitely more relevant character to the story than say, Emily, who at one point sings a song about her childhood lawn (what?).
Jeffrey Denman gives a powerful, at times terrifying, performance as Michael, the deranged history teacher who kidnaps Luke. Somehow, Michael, the kidnapping rapist, is out-eviled by Luke’s own mother, played by the stinging Christiane Noll. Luke’s mother is overbearing, arrogant, and mostly concerned with keeping up appearances, at the cost of saving her relationship with her son. A blindly religious, uptight woman, she is incapable of true empathy for the suffering of others. While Noll does an excellent job portraying Luke’s mom, she is another character who seems over-used in the production.
Almost as repetitive as Luke’s mother and Emily are the boats and mentions of boats that show up at every turn. There are boats drawn on Luke’s bedroom wall. Michael meets and seduces Luke through an online boat game. Luke’s ex-girlfriend see’s a leaf and it mystifyingly reminds her of a boat. Luke’s dad wants to take him to a boat show. In the end, Luke follows his passion and becomes a ship builder’s apprentice in Newfoundland, a place that Michael had told him about (when he kept him chained in a room for a year). WHAT?
Although many of the songs didn’t add to the story, there were several that provided the moments of magic one hopes for in a musical. These include “Vinland,” “You are the Marble,” and “The Last Thing He Needs.” Much of the tension in the play comes from the dueling binaries of perversion and purity, ignorance and understanding, and of course love and hate, which these songs hit on perfectly.
One of the most impressive aspects of this production was the set design. The backdrop of rolling, Kansas fields gives the audience more of a sense of Luke’s isolation, and the props are expertly utilized. The lighting, costumes, and sound were also extremely professional and well executed.
Kid Victory is a little less than victorious, but I encourage you to see the show and decide for yourselves if it sinks or floats. The Signature Theatre is an excellent place to spend an evening.